Starting More Than Human is like a weight settling on you. Both for the flowing, dense, poetic writing that settles on you like a blanket, and for the grisly subject material that leaves a pit in your stomach. Cursed with cover art often featuring creepy babies, More Than Human is not a book to make you feel happy. It is, however, one of those books that is always mentioned on any ‘best SF of all time’ list. Let’s find out why.
In the first of three parts, named The Idiot, we are introduced to a couple of remarkable characters. One of which, the Idiot, is a man without consciousness who lives like an animal, but who has telepathic powers to make people act to his deeper desires. What’s even more remarkable is the confident, compelling, almost dictating narration by Sturgeon. At first it sounds a bit stiff and old-fashioned, but there is quality and poetry to it.
There’s also Janie, a smart 5-year-old who can move objects with her mind, a hyper-intelligent baby and two twin toddlers who can teleport. Piecemeal-like they are introduced to us in episodes full of harsh humanity. There’s lots of shocking tragedy going on in these few pages, with characters that feel very realistic. In the end all these “freaks” end up together to form a “gestalt” person. Alone they cannot function, but put all their gifts together and they become a functioning unit, even something more than human.
In parts two and three, we jump forward through the years and see them make a very curious household. And just to highlight Sturgeon’s writing skill again, these parts have entirely different tones and rhythms. Part two, for example, is faster paced, with sharp dialogue; part three more romantic. Where the story is going is never really clear, so be prepared for that if you’re an impatient reader.
It’s a story of mental growth over the years. Throughout the book, what the telepaths are up to is less important than the sense of belonging they find in each other’s company. They are all lost children, but pulling them apart is even worse. There’s an investigation of loneliness running throughout the novel, and what friendship and belonging means. The greatest threat is them losing each other.
It was all the rage in the golden age of science fiction to put telepathy in your novel. Sour-faced people nowadays claim that that isn’t science fiction but nonsense. But who cares when the writing is good? No one managed to approach the topic in such an intriguing way as Sturgeon. For its short length, he raises many questions through a form of short story writing that pulls you in. This one is by rights seen as one of the essentials in SF history. It aimed ambitiously high in both writing quality and thoughtfulness.